Homeschooling in Pennsylvania:
Making a Portfolio Step-By-Step

This page is an example of one way to do a home education portfolio. It is not the most minimal. It is not super-huge, either. It is *one* example. I have hesitated to put this here, because I don't want to give the impression that this is the only way, or the best way, or anything like that. If you were my best friend, though, and it was your first year doing a portfolio, I'd get you and some experienced homeschooling friends together for a "portfolio peek party", so you could get an idea of what various people have submitted. Please take this page in that spirit - as one example among many possibilities.

When I did my first portfolio, I looked at a lot of different ones, took ideas from each of them, and created my own. I encourage you, too, to talk to lots of experienced home educators to help you find the approach that is right for you - we are all different, as are our kids, so what works for one family may not work for another. However, not everyone has access to lots of different portfolios to look at, so I've decided to go ahead and offer this page as a starting place. Take what works for you and leave the rest. If what I describe here isn't a good fit for you or your family or your interpretation of the law or the way you homeschool, keep looking; you'll eventually find the approach that works for you. When you put together yours, just think about what you've been doing over the past year, read the requirements in the law, and in most cases it should flow naturally from that.

NOTE: In October 2014, the home education law was changed, eliminating the superintendent's annual review of the portfolio. Because evaluators (unlike some superintendents) tend to be more aware of the requirements of the home education law, and of typical approaches to homeschooling, and because you will likely be present when they review the portfolio, there is less need for the more formal style of portfolio described here. If you are making a portfolio only for your evaluator to review at the evaluation, you may wish to leave out some of the items that in the past were included mainly to address the superintendent or anyone else at the school district who reviewed the portfolio (such as the cover letter and a summary of the relevant law). However, I have left this description of a more formal portfolio here, as some families may still want to create one, for a variety of reasons. Please take the suggestions that work for your situation, and leave the rest.

There may be other considerations when preparing the records that make up your portfolio.  You may need records for an umbrella school, diploma program, or for college applications.  You may have special circumstances, such as a custody battle, where you may have to defend your homeschooling program.  You may want your portfolios to do double-duty as family scrapbooks. Or, you may just want to do the minimum necessary for the evaluation. Most people do not need to keep extensive records, but consider your situation carefully before deciding how to document your child's homeschool year in your portfolio. 

Are you ready? Here we go!

What do you put all this stuff into?

To some extent it depends on how many pages you end up with (which varies widely), whether you will need your portfolio for things other than the evaluation, and whether you intend to keep it as a family scrapbook. Some folks use a binder, often with sheet protectors to contain field trips brochures or other non-standard-sized items. Some folks make copies of the various items on letter-size paper, and bind these pages with staples, brads, binder clips, or comb binding. Some use a pocket folder or envelope, perhaps grouping pages with paperclips.

Remember, as far as the law is concerned, this is just paperwork. There's nothing in the law that requires an 4" thick, artist-quality scrapbook.

Some folks like to begin their portfolio with a cover letter. The cover letter is not required by law and thus is strictly optional.

A cover letter gives a professional appearance to the portfolio, and explains what is included therein. It is also a good place to mention anything out of the ordinary you want to bring to the reader's attention. Perhaps your child has skipped a grade, repeated a grade, been home educated for only half the year, graduated and will no longer be home educated, etc. - mention it in your cover letter so there is no confusion.

Here is a sample cover letter to get you started. You will need to edit it a bit with your own student's information. Don't obsess about this - simple and brief is just fine. Once you've done your first cover letter it takes only a minute or two to tweak it for the current year or another child.

After your evaluation, your evaluator will give you a certification that your child has received an appropriate education. I suggest you make a copy of it to give to the school district to meet your end-of-year paperwork requirement, and keep the original at home with your portfolio. (Another option would be to ask the evaluator for two original copies; one for you and one for the district.)

The evaluator's report should state that the student has done the required days and subjects, and made sustained progress in the overall program, and thus has had an appropriate education. Most evaluators write their own reports. There are some examples here, including one that is ready to print-and-use (handy if a friend who hasn't done evaluations before is doing yours). See also my all about evaluations page, and my list of evaluators. (In some cases, a district may also want information about the evaluator's qualifications, such as the number of their teaching certificate.)

Some folks like to print out this nice page of excerpts from the PA Home Education Law and include it in the front of their portfolio. This page is not required by law and thus is strictly optional.

This page gives anyone who is reading the portfolio a quick summary of the law, hopefully helping them to learn what is and is not required to be in the portfolio. It also shows that you are aware of the law and intend to follow it. Feel free to print a copy and use it in your portfolio too. (There is a page for the elementary level and a page for the secondary level.)

The portfolio should "demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring". "Appropriate education" includes "instruction...for the time required...".

Everyone has their own way of showing they've done the days or hours required for "appropriate ed" - see my discussion of the days/hours requirement for various approaches. An attendance calendar or statement is not specifically required by law.

If you would like to include an attendance calendar, feel free to use my favorite one-page attendance calendar, which a lot of people use, or one of the other options (including an attendance statement) on my Useful Forms page.

(Yes, for many homeschooling families, it is bizarre to try to separate "school" from "not school", and trying to do so can make you crazy. Do not stress about this. Many folks consult their day planner and check off days they considered more-or-less "school days" (usually including most Mondays-Fridays during September to May-ish, summer camp, special family outings, scouting events, performances, travel, etc.), typically resulting in a few more than the required 180 days. Others prefer an attendance statement, which simply states that they've done the 180 days, or that living an learning are intertwined, and thus they've done 365 days.)

In 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades your portfolio must include "results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels".

Test results are only required in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades, but if you test in other grades you can include them if you like. They can be a way to speak to the idea that the student has made "sustained progress in the overall program".

See my testing page for lots of testing info. If you have not yet done testing, and it is a testing year, don't panic - there are lots of options.

The portfolio must include a "log...of reading materials".

There are many ways to approach the log requirement. (See my log page for a full discussion of this.) One way is to simply list the books you've used. You can list books your child has read to himself, books you've read to him, and books you've read together. If you like, you can also list audio books, videos, textbooks, software, music CD's, and/or other educational materials. As logs take many forms, you may want to title this list "Log of Reading Materials" to be clear that it is the required log.

You are supposed to keep this log "contemporaneously with the instruction". If you haven't been keeping a log, you will have to think back over the year and reconstruct one. Look over your library records and your family's bookshelves, talk to your child about what they have read, and do the best you can.

If you do a transcript/summary (see below), you may wish to integrate your log with it. If you use this approach, be sure to label it something like "Log of Reading Materials and Summary of Work in Required Subjects" so there there is no confusion about whether you have submitted a log.

The portfolio should "demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring". "Appropriate education" includes "instruction in the required subjects". See my discussion of the subjects requirement for more on this.

For various reasons, some folks find it useful to create a sort of informal transcript or brief summary of things they've done, often grouped by subject. A transcript or summary of work is not specifically required by law. A summary/transcript is not a daily log - no dates are listed - nor should it attempt to list absolutely everything you have done. Rather, it looks much like the objectives required at the beginning of the year, but with things you have actually done rather than things you plan to do. Don't get overwhelmed - this is usually 1-3 pages at most, and shouldn't be too hard to write.

This approach is handy if much of what you do is not based on textbooks or workbooks, and doesn't always produce a "sample of work" you can put in the portfolio. The idea is to write a short blurb for each subject - sort of like the objectives you filed with your affidavit, but after-the-fact. For some families, especially those with younger children and a relaxed, eclectic, child-led, or unschool-y approach, it can be easier than coming up with hard-copy samples of work, and removes some of the pressure to create "portfolio fodder". It makes it clear you've covered the subjects, and as kids get older it can sometimes be useful (for other reasons) to have a transcript of sorts of what they've done. You will of course need to include some samples of work, primarily for the major subjects. But with this approach, the blurbs carry some of the load of showing "appropriate education" rather than just having the samples, and the required documentation can flow from the learning, not the other way around.

I have been collecting examples of these summaries on my portfolio summaries page. Browse through them to get some ideas before writing your own.

To construct your summary, think back over your year, and consult your day planner to help you remember. Did you use any formal curricula? Did you travel? Go to museums, parks, libraries, historical sites? Did you see plays, concerts, dance performances? Did you play on a team, take a dance or karate class, go on a ski trip? Do you take art or music lessons? What did you do with scouts or a church youth group? What did you do as a family - community service, family projects, theme parties, holiday activities, religious activities? What were your interests and how did you persue them? What kinds of things did you do when you got together with friends?

Some folks include in their summary the books and other resources they used for each subject. In this case, the summary also serves as the log of reading materials - be sure to title it accordingly so there is no confusion.

Some families group subjects in their objectives and portfolio, as some of the required subjects are related, and fewer subject areas can seem much less daunting! Here is one suggestion for the elementary grades (1-6), which groups the required subjects into just seven main topics.

  • ENGLISH: Spelling, Reading, Writing
  • MATHEMATICS (Arithmetic)

By the time a reader gets this far in the portfolio, it should be pretty clear that the student is getting an appropriate education, so you may not feel the need to include a 4" binder's worth of samples. In fact, if you've included test scores, a transcript/summary showing work in each required subject, and an attendance calendar of some kind, you've already spoken to progress, subjects, and days (the three prongs of "appropriate education" as defined in the law), so the samples don't have to carry much of the burden of these three requirements - they're pretty much just there to support what you've said in the blurbs.

What to include for portfolio fodder, er, samples of work? Traditional written work such as worksheets, tests, essays, and reports are obvious choices. But also consider notes from a science project, a photo of a hands-on history project, a brochure describing a class at the zoo, a pamphlet from a field trip, a certificate of participation from an activity, a copy of merit badges or ice skating rank patches, a diagram of the parts of the brain, the program from a play or concert, and so on. Some folks go for quantity, others choose a few high-quality samples and leave it at that, especially if they have a transcript/summary that explains the overall scope of the work.

Depending on if and how you may be using the portfolio beyond the evaluation (as a family scrapbook, as part of the admissions process for academic programs or private school, as documentation in case your home education program is challenged, etc.), you can decide whether to include the original work, or copies of it.